Rosemary Chesney, asst. sports editor
As students approach midterms, fall athletes approach the middle of their seasons. Berry women’s cross country team has competed in four races so far with three races left in the 2021 season. Anticipating the conference championship set for Oct. 30, the team increases its intensity, expecting to finish the season strong.
Along with all collegiate sports, the team entered the 2021 season after a modified 2020 season. The team competed in the spring of 2020 instead of the previous fall due to COVID-19 restrictions. Because of the excess rain in the winter, the team raced on different terrain than they were used to. Despite these challenges, the team competed in three conference races and finished third in the conference behind Rhodes College and Centre College.
“The world canceled athletics last fall, which was a miserable experience, ” Head Coach Paul Deaton said. “COVID-19 was a black hole for athletics, and the team is [performing] amazingly this season coming out of it.”
The team won their first dual race, placed first in the next three-way race, placed fourteenth out of 23 teams in the third race and twenty-fourth out of 37 in the last race. Every race so far, the team competed against non-conference teams, so it did not count for their conference record, except for their second race against Oglethorpe University and Sewanee: The University of the South.
With only two seniors graduated from the 2020 season, the team now consists of six freshmen, four sophomores and four seniors. The seniors on the team include Ashleigh Meeker, Ashlee Golden, Lily Jenkins and team captain Leanna Ritchie. Due to the shortened 2020 season, none of the sophomores have competed in a regular collegiate season.
“I’m especially proud of seeing the sophomores step up to the plate and perform wonderfully after the shortened [2020 season],” Ritchie said. “It’s really great seeing everyone come together and support each other, celebrating each other’s good races.”
According to Deaton, racing against difficult n o n – c o n f e r e n c e competition has been the greatest challenge in their season so far. The team competed against Division I and Division II teams during their last race on Saturday Oct. 1.
With the conference championship approaching, the team is increasing in training. The team practices eight times a week, twice on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Sundays off. According to team captain Leanna Ritchie, the team has a chance of beating the former conference champions, Centre College, because of their combined strong younger and older athletes.
“As a whole the team has bonded a lot this year,” Ritchie said. “Everyone sees their place on the team and helps each other run their best for the conference championship. It’s exciting to see everyone come together and push each other. We definitely love each other and have an awesome drive to compete in the championship.”
More intense training in Oct. increases team bonding experiences. The entire team joins together for “Christmas in October” and dresses up to play Dirty Santa. While the men and women teams race separately, they engage in team bonding experiences together and support each other during races. Ritchie said that this team could be the most “cohesive” cross-country team she has been on while at Berry.
“The team is super welcoming, which is something I was nervous about,” freshman Erin Schmidt said. “Running has always been an outlet for me, and it’s nice to have supportive teammates who I can go to whenever I am feeling down.”
The team aims to win a conference championship during this season and compete at regionals, according to Deaton. With a strong freshman class, Schmidt hopes to continue improving and welcome more athletes into the team.
“The team does an outstanding job at putting forth effort and paying attention to each other” Deaton said. “The best word I would use to describe the team culture is caring.”